Humanities Evolved: Changing the Sophomore Humanities Curriculum

By Ana Chelidze

The Sophomore Humanities Department at EGHS is infamous for a few things: Mad40s, book annotations, Mr Perrin’s PowerPoints, and, of course, the WWI Debate. But, this year, the Humanities teachers have created a new curriculum. They’ve removed books and added new ones, rewritten lesson plans and reordered the course of study, all with a certain goal in mind: to help students connect what they learn in class to the modern world, and to turn away from the Euro-centric teachings of the past. 

Last year, Mr. Kenney, Mrs. Bryer, Mrs. Garno, Mrs. Catoia and Mr. Perrin decided that something needed to change. In previous years, World Civilization would usually teach all the way through the Cold War. Now, however, the curriculum is moving away from this “more is better” mindset. Mr Perrin recalls that he’d “get to the end of the year and try to talk about context in the modern world, and there’s so little time left, there was no opportunity.” This year he’s hoping to “break out of Europe,” and get his classes “to really understand, and [be] able to empathize with other people.” He would like for his students to see other places as something similar to home, with people similar to us, “instead of seeing it as this sort of ‘Monolithic Latin America’.” He goes on to say that his real goal this year is to teach his classes to see the connections between events and people throughout history. “There’s no singularity in ‘Africa’,” just like there isn’t any singularity in North America, and it’s important to Mr Perrin that his students get that much out of his course. 

Mr Kenney is also in favor of the curriculum change. When asked why he thought the change was necessary, Mr Kenney said, “We decided to change the curriculum to put you guys in a better place, to allow a conversation about modern day events.” And for the most part, they have been achieving that goal. He thinks that there is “always room to grow,” and that changing the curriculum is a good way to make sure his teaching doesn’t become “stale”. Many of the books added to the English curriculum this year, like Things Fall Apart and The Do Breaker, were chosen to run parallel with the History course, as well as providing “a thematic connection to something more modern.” Kenney believes that the humanities are ultimately moving in the right direction, despite the change not being “an easy thing to do.” He says that his understanding of literature from places like South America, Africa, The Middle East, and Asia, is not nearly as good as his understanding of European literature, so a lot of what he is trying to teach his students, he himself is learning alongside them. Kenney states that he “certainly liked some of the changes made this year,” like looking at Heart of Darkness through different religious, phycological, political, and social lenses. He says “we have a lot more to do,” but he’s ready to keep working and making changes in order to improve on what students get out of the course. 

But, like with all change, not everything has gone according to plan. Mr Perrin says it’s “the first time ever” that English classes have read Heart of Darkness before he could teach Imperialism. He believes that this “is fine…[the classes] should always compliment each other, they don’t necessarily have to happen at the same time,” but he still thinks there is a benefit if they are teaching similar concepts together. “To realign things requires a whole lot of planning, and we haven’t necessarily had time to plan the way we would like to.” Mr Kenney adds that what they “really need is more time.” They agree that this year, they’ve had trouble getting together and coordinating classes, and because of that, Perrin says he feels like he’s “in the same place,” unable to get his students to really connect with the past. The lack of time has made it difficult to fully put into effect the changes that the department envisioned. “There’s always more to improve,” Perrin says. Kenney adds that there are a lot of things he’d like to change for next year. “I don’t like that I gave up A Tale of Two Cities. I might fight to get that back.” 

Ultimately, the changes to the humanities are here to stay. In fact, the department will likely change things up even more in coming years. There will always be more to do, and the department is ready to take the work on. Kenney says that at the end of each year, the department always asks themselves “What worked? What didn’t?” They are committed to keep working towards a curriculum that moves outside of Europe and helps students connect what they learn in class to the modern world. 

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